HL Deb 13 April 2000 vol 612 cc288-90

3.30 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to assist in famine relief in Ethiopia.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have been in close touch with the crisis as it has developed. We have responded quickly and appropriately to the emerging emergency needs. Since April 1999 we have committed over £7 million in food and non-food relief. Food aid is over 25,500 metric tonnes. We are also contributing our normal share, about 17 per cent, to the 432,000 metric tonnes which will be provided by the EC.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Having watched the devastating television news pictures last night from Gode in south-east Ethiopia, is the Ethiopian ambassador to Britain not right in saying that the £2.4 million in food aid to Ethiopia is by no means sufficient to bring safety to those dying people?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is important to see this in context. Some areas in Ethiopia have had drought for three years in succession, others for four years in succession. We respond to the appeals made by the Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Committee of the Government of Ethiopia who co-ordinate the donor effort. Last year the appeal was to help about 2.5 million people who, it was thought, would suffer because of the drought. This year the appeal is for a much greater number. We have a food security specialist based in Addis who has been advising the Government on how best we might bring our resources to bear to deal with the tragedy. We are there and are involved. This year we have given £5 million in both food and non-food aid. We shall continue to do what we can to mitigate the crisis if further appeals are made.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that humanitarian aid must be the priority as long as the war prevents the Ethiopian Government from making the best use of development aid?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Since 1998, when war broke out between Eritrea and Ethiopia, we have not provided any additional funding to our long-term development assistance except in the area of food security. That does not affect our humanitarian aid to Ethiopia.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, will the Minister consider using the services of a logistic specialist as well as those of a food security specialist? The problem in Ethiopia is always that of getting the food to the people. It is no good having planners unless they have the means to transport the food.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that there is a serious logistical problem. We are partly hampered by the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. We are considering how best we can support the Government of Ethiopia in these matters. We shall take on board the suggestion made by the noble Baroness regarding a logistic specialist.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I refer to last Wednesday's debate on central Africa. Can my noble friend add anything to the statement made at that time by her noble friend Lady Scotland that the Ethiopian Government were in a position to sign the OAU framework peace agreement in full? Can she say whether and when the proximity talks in Algiers, under OAU auspices, between Eritrea and Ethiopia will start again?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am not sure that I can say anything more than was said last week by my noble friend Lady Scotland. The Algerians are trying to find a compromise position. As I understand it, they are confident that the Ethiopians are now content with the package. They are in negotiations with the Eritreans. They remain confident that both sides can be persuaded to accept the agreement. As regards further talks, I understand that the President of Algeria hopes to have a meeting in Algiers in April. As we are already mid-way through April, I hope that that meeting will take place within the next two weeks.

Lord Avebury

I refer to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, on logistics. Can the Minister say what response has been made by the international aid community and the Government of Ethiopia respectively to the offer made by President Issaias in the United States last week for the use of the port of Assab to deliver humanitarian aid? Would not the Government agree that if the port of Assab was used instead of concentrating all the humanitarian delivery through Djibouti, the effectiveness of the aid programme would be enhanced and more aid could be delivered for the same amount of money?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the comments of the noble Lord are true. The war has disrupted the economic and social progress of Ethiopia. It has also affected food security by diverting trucking capacity, increasing cost and denying access to the ports of Massawa and Assab. I am aware that the Eritreans have offered use of the ports. That offer has been rejected by the Ethiopians, who say that there are too many conditions attached and that they see it as a PR gimmick.